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Competition for Head Start Grants Begins Now

From guest blogger Nirvi Shah:

The first phase of a competition for federal Head Start dollars opened today for dozens of current and prospective providers, including those who have been cited for deficiencies in the past and now must vie for dollars they once received automatically.

Regulations created last fall require Head Start providers that fall short of federal quality standards to compete with other potential providers for funding, instead of being guaranteed a share of $7.6 billion in Head Start grants. Automatic renewal had been the norm since the program was created in 1964.

"We are committed to funding only those organizations that can provide the highest-quality services to our children and families," said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, whose agency oversees Head Start.

Grants for regions of the country that must compete will be issued in two waves, to coincide with the current funding cycle for these areas and keep transitions smooth for children in case the funding for the place they attend Head Start now is not renewed, said Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, director of the Office of Head Start, during a press call with reporters.

"This is the strongest action in the history of the Head Start program," Ms. Sanchez said Thursday. "It's one tool we have in our tool box for ensuring accountability and quality services to our most vulnerable families."

Head Start and Early Head Start work with about 1 million children—infants to 5-year-olds—from low-income families each year, as well as pregnant women, and their families. There are about 1,600 Head Start and Early Head Start grantees across the country.

The competition for funds begins for providers in 97 service areas now—applications are listed on Grants.gov—and the race for dollars for Head Start sites in another 100 service areas kicks off in May. Each phase will allow 90 days for applications. But the federal government said it's unclear exactly when grant winners will be named.

The federal government created a website to guide those competing for grants, which may be especially helpful to first-time applicants.

Meanwhile, federal researchers studying the effectiveness of Head Start's social and emotional instruction have asked for more time to follow up with children and parents in the program, a recent notice in the Federal Register says.

The Head Start Classroom-based Approaches and Resource for Emotion and Social skill-promotion project, run by the Administration for Children and Families at the Health and Human Services Department, is trying to identify the best ways to prepare the program's 3- and 4-year-olds socially to start kindergarten.

Researchers have surveyed parents, teachers, and coaches in more than 100 Head Start centers and interviewed and assessed 1,042 3-year-olds and 2,885 4-year-olds. They want an extension of the project to collect more follow-up information on former 4-year-old Head Start students entering kindergarten in 2012.

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